VCU Men’s Basketball made it to the NCAA Tournament every season since 2010 until last year, when the Rams failed to advance past the A-10 Quarterfinals. But with a clean slate on the horizon, the Black and Gold will look to settle in to a new coaching staff, as Mike Rhoades begins his second season at the helm on Broad Street.
VCU has experienced a whirlwind of momentum swings, coaching turnover and unprecedented expectations since the legendary Final Four run of 2011. The Shaka Smart and Will Wade eras have come and gone in that time, leaving the VCU community in desperate search of stability. Despite last season’s tournament letdown, RamNation hopes Rhoades is the man to lead the Black and Gold back to the promised land and stay for the long haul.
Three freshmen — guards PJ Byrd and KeShawn Curry as well as highly touted forward Vincent Williams — will join a team facing significant turnover from last year following the departures of senior starting point guard Johnny Williams and senior forward, leading scorer and First-Team All-A-10 selection Justin Tillman.
Despite losing Williams, Tillman and fellow senior forward Khris Lane, RamNation has one big reason to expect a bounce-back 2018-19 campaign — Marcus Evans. The 6-foot-2-inch rising junior point guard sat out last season due to transfer regulations after he followed Rhoades from Rice University. A Chesapeake, Va. native, Evans averaged 19.0 points per game and shot 42 percent from the field as a sophomore competing in Conference USA.
A George Bush High School graduate out of Richmond, Texas, Byrd committed to VCU back in September on Twitter and could begin the season as Evans’ backup. Curry, a Fork Union Military Academy graduate, committed to VCU last October. The 6-foot-4-inch combo guard adds versatility to Rhoades’ backcourt behind Evans, junior guard and sharpshooter Malik Crowfield, junior guard Mike’l Simms and Byrd. Last but not least, Williams — a four-star forward from St. John’s’ Jesuit in Toledo, Ohio — committed last October. Williams has drawn rave reviews for his athleticism and competitiveness, as the versatile wing has already earned the label of a classic VCU talent. Williams projects the highest ceiling of the freshman trio.
Last season, the freshman class produced immediately and became fan favorites, leaving VCU supporters full of hope for the future and, particularly, the next two years. Forwards Sean Mobley and Marcus Santos-Silva burst onto the scene last year and could assume starting roles as sophomores. Rising junior wings De’Riante Jenkins and Issac Vann join Evans, Simms and Crowfield to round out a stacked class of 2019-2020.
Projected 2018-19 VCU starting five: Evans, Crowfield, Jenkins, Mobley, Santos-Silva.
Sixth-man: Vann’s dynamic scoring presence is best utilized in this capacity, though he could foreseeably compete with Jenkins or Mobley for a starting gig.
Other significant contributors:
Simms came on strong down the stretch last year and should garner major minutes off the bench. Williams should also push for playing time, as his elite athleticism could ease the learning curb to the collegiate level. Rhoades likes to rotate 8-10 men in order to play at a frenetic pace and out-grit the competition, so senior wing Xavier Jackson and Byrd could also see minutes. Senior transfer Michael Gilmore, now in his second stint on Broad Street, could be an X-factor and add much needed depth to the Rams’ frontcourt.
Evans is undoubtedly the fulcrum of this squad. The lefty guard has some James Harden to his game, with an array of savvy moves at his disposal. Look for as many as 20 points per game from the Cape Henry graduate.
Depth and versatility on the wings will stand out as the defining characteristic of this group. Jenkins, Vann, Mobley, Williams and Jackson can all guard 2-4 effectively and get to the cup consistently. Mobley, Jenkins and Vann also bring range from beyond the arc to the table.
Front court depth is the glaring shortcoming of this edition of HAVOC. Much will be asked of Santos-Silva, as he is the only true bruiser on the roster. This is somewhat by design, as VCU traditionally recruits shorter, athletic centers who can run the floor and keep up with the high tempo (think Mo-Alie Cox, now a tight end for the Indianapolis Colts).
As always, the Black and Gold will have to pack the paint against any big man pushing 7 feet, work to run him off the floor and lure him into foul trouble. At 6 feet and 10 inches, 210 pounds, Gilmore, a 4-5 hybrid with three-point range, could see the playing time necessary for a breakout season after disappointing years at the University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University following his transfer from VCU after his freshman season.
Jessica Wetzler Sports Editor
Zach Joachim Executive Editor